Miguel Bruns Alonso, a graduate student at Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands, has developed a pen that detects how much twitching and twirling it’s being put through. People under stress tend to move and shake a pen more than someone who is calm. In order to try to get a therapeutic effect out of the pen, Bruns built in counter motion feedback that makes the pen a bit more difficult to move around. Though initial experiments have shown a marginal benefit, further studies and development may prove the benefit of the technology.

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Bruns, who studies industrial design, carried out various experiments during the course of his research, which showed that people tend to play with their pens in their hands when they are tense. It also seems that when they are encouraged to check these nervous movements, or make more gentle movements, it is possible to gain more control over a situation. ‘Sensors in a pen could provide an unobtrusive way of measuring stress levels. Giving users the right feedback could then help them deal with their stress in a constructive way,’ says Bruns.

The pen also provides a counterweight to these movements using built-in electronics and electromagnets. When it detects the quicker movements associated with stress, the pen gradually becomes more difficult to move around. This encourages users to move in a more relaxed way, which in turn makes the pen yield more easily again.

When the pen was evaluated in an experiment, people who received feedback on their behaviour had a lower heart rate (around 5 percent lower) than those who received no feedback. They experienced less psychological stress. However, neither were they aware that they were actually receiving any feedback on their behaviour. They also said that they did not feel any less stress.

‘The conclusion to be drawn from this is that products which seek to reduce short-term stress should, preferably, intervene directly to modify that behaviour, rather than warning the user about their stress levels, for instance. This could allow products to reduce stress in an unobtrusive way.’

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